This morning I was priviledged to hear former first lady, Rosalynn Carter, speak. It was inspiring to be in her presence, much less to hear her. She has been one of the biggest proponents of mental health reform in this country for many decades. She was one of the keynote speakers who kicked off the annual meeting for the NMHA today.
It is always a delight to hear people who are truly passionate about what they believe. She said today she had been involved in mental health for a long time, that when she started Amy Carter was 3 and now she’s 38. Funny how we lose track of those sorts of things. If you’d asked me I wouldn’t have had any idea how old Amy is now.
Paddy Kutz of Ohio is a Executive Director/CEO I really admire. I snapped a nice photo of her with Mrs. Carter today before things got underway. Paddy is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She is always gracious and always welcoming.
I met her at my first MHA event and have been impressed with her ever since. She always goes out of her way to greet everyone. I think of her often when I’m at an event and am not feeling very chatty. I think, “oh, now, Paddy would go say hello to everyone… just go do it.”
Also speaking this morning was Representative Patrick Kennedy. The Kennedy family has long been involved in many social causes, and mental health is one of them.
As we always expect from any member of the Kennedy family, and as they always deliver, he was inspiring. He just got out of treatment at the Mayo Clinic on June 2. He didn’t talk about that today, but he gave us much to think about. One of the interesting statistics was that Native Americans have a 870% greater chance to die from an alcohol related issue. I knew it was much higher, but I didn’t know it was more than 800%. That’s not a typo – eight-hundred-seventy percent.
I’m always amazed at the ability of a powerful speaker to seamlessly weave together many different threads into a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. He covered alcoholism, suicide, terrorism, veterans, legislative issues, and a myriad of other topics in well under an hour.
He talked about how the suicide rate is double what the homicide rate is. He said if we could get TV stations to do a nightly suicide toll that people would understand that the way they realize homicides happen every day.
He talked about the mental health movement in this country and said, “Prevention is the biggest bang for our buck.” He talked about how half of all bankruptcies are due to medical bills.
It was an inspiring morning. Mrs. Carter, Congressman Kennedy, our new Director David Shern, and Marley Prunty Lara, a young lady who told her story of recovery, rang the Mental Health Bell this morning.
The bell was created from iron chains and shackles once used in asylums. It is inscribed with, “Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness.” The 300-pound Bell rings out hope for improving mental health and achieving victory over mental illnesses.
After that, we went to the hill to visit with our legislators. I had not done this before, so went to listen and learn. Rose Mary from Wichita, in the green blazer, is very good at it.
Congressman Jerry Moran took time to pose with our group today. I’ve always been impressed with him, although I’ve never been to visit him in DC. But he has always struck me as a thoughtful legislator. I don’t agree with everything he’s about, but I guess that would be true for any legislator. He was very kind and attentive to our group.
The evening was capped off by an awards ceremony. My favorite person who was honored was Frank Warren, who runs the PostSecret website www.postsecret.com. I went up afterwards and told him I look every Sunday, which I do.
This concept in amazing. If you’re not familiar with the site, take a look. You’ll be amazed. He was attending with his family, including his 11 year old daughter. That was one of the highlights of the day to me. I’ve admired that site for a long time.
Other honorees included Brooke Shields, Joshua Wolf Shenk – author of “Lincoln’s Melancholy,” and Iraq war veteran Blake Miller, among others.